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More stories followed, the tone of the group fluctuating between all-out laughter and near tears. The men had taken turns buying pitchers of Coors Light, the only beer Denny would drink. For years they’d harassed their boss about his taste in beer when he lived in one of the craft beer capitals of the nation. Denny had never caved to their pressure and drank the weak beer with pride. Ava sipped at her glass, amused that today the other men were downing it with gusto.

Next to her, Ray’s wife Jill downed her glass of beer. Ava had been slightly intimidated the first time she’d met Jill Lusco. Gorgeous, blonde, tall. And, according to Ray, a perfect mother. But she’d turned out to be fun and down-to-earth. Ava refilled her glass before Jill could ask for more.

“How are the wedding plans?” Jill asked, tapping her glass against Ava’s in thanks for the refill. Her words were slightly slurred and Ava suspected her own words sounded the same. The first few pitchers of beer had gone down very easily.

Ava glanced at Mason, but he was deep in conversation with Duff. She snagged a piece of the baked pretzel and dipped it in the cheese sauce before answering.

“I can’t pick a freaking location,” Ava admitted. “Everything feels wrong. Too big, too small, too fancy, too plain.”

Jill nodded in sympathy. “It’s hard getting started.”

“Where’d you and Ray get married?”

“It was different for us. I was only nineteen, so my parents’ church was the logical choice.”

“Nineteen?” Ava tried not to squeal the word. “You were a baby!”

“High school sweethearts. Corny, aren’t we?”

Ava looked at Ray Lusco. The linebacker-size cop was a snappy dresser and wonderfully transparent about his feelings. Ava and he liked to discuss Project Runway episodes, nearly making Mason’s eyes roll back in his head. She thought Jill was very lucky and told her so.

“You’re good for Mason,” Jill stated, leaning close. “I’ve tried for years to set him up. That old-fashioned silent type can be very appealing, but it only works with the right couple. I’m glad he found you. I didn’t want him to be lonely anymore.”

“Do you think he was lonely?” Ava asked.

Jill nodded emphatically. “Oh, yes. He just didn’t know it.”

Ava grinned.

“Where does Mason want to get married?” Jill asked.

“He says whatever I want is what he wants. That it’s totally up to me.”

“He’s not helping at all?” Jill looked horrified.

“He’s not Ray.”

“But still, some input would be helpful. He thinks he’s helping by staying out of the decisions, but that’s making it harder for you.”

“Maybe,” Ava admitted. “But every time my wedding planner suggests a location, I try to picture the two of us in a ceremony there and I can’t. It feels wrong.”

“Perhaps you need to go to the county courthouse.” Jill’s sad eyes indicated that would be a tragedy. “Take the planning out of the equation.”

“That doesn’t feel right, either,” Ava muttered.

“Do you want to get married?” Jill whispered confidentially, leaning inside Ava’s comfort zone.

“Yes!” Why does everyone ask me that?

“Oh, good. You had me worried for a moment. I think you guys are a great match, but I know sometimes things aren’t what they seem on the surface.”

Ava reassured her that she and Mason were solidly on the same path, but doubt poked at her brain with its nasty red-hot spikes. What was her issue?

She looked deeper, asking the hard questions that she’d always avoided. Is the age difference an issue?

No. Twelve years was a drop in the bucket. And it would only get smaller as they got older.

Am I scared of this level of commitment?

No. She was done with all other men. He’d ruined her for anyone else.

“Mason doesn’t want to have more kids, does he?” Jill asked, interrupting her deep thoughts. “How do you feel about that?”


That one stung a bit. “I’m okay with that,” she slowly replied. “I’ve never really had any maternal urges, and I can’t imagine Mason raising a high school student when he’s in his sixties.”

Jill’s gaze drilled all the way into Ava’s brain; she didn’t believe her.

Little frilly dresses. Minnie Mouse. Shiny black shoes. Disney princesses.

Ava swallowed. “I don’t want to discover that my sister’s mental illness has been passed to my children.”

Jill pulled back, understanding and sympathy washing over her gaze. “Oh, honey. I’d never thought of that.”

Ava assumed Jill was well aware of Jayne’s history. Ray and Mason were tight friends, and Ray had sat in a front-row seat for Jayne’s destructive theatrics over the past year.

Jill wrapped an arm around Ava’s shoulders, pulling her tight and pressing her temple against Ava’s. “That’s a hard reason to swallow. You’re very brave to confront it.”

Something inside cracked, and dammed tears leaked down her cheeks.

It felt final.

I’ve never been upset about it before.

Jill studied her face. “My motto is Never Say Never.”

“Mine, too,” Ava whispered, wiping at her cheeks. She glanced over at Mason, hoping he hadn’t noticed her mini-breakdown. His attention was still on Duff. “There’s no rational reason for us to have kids. It goes against everything we want. Everything we know.”